Bignè di san Giuseppe

Bignè di san Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs)

In dessert, Lazio, snack by Frank27 Comments

Being a Catholic country, Father’s Day is Italy is celebrated on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. The feast is associated with a number sweet and savory dishes, but none more so perhaps than the  fancy, sweet version of zeppole usually called, appropriately enough, zeppole di san Giuseppe. Romans  make their own homier version of this treat that they call bignè di san Giuseppe. Sweet zeppole are made with a cooked dough enriched with butter and eggs, formed into little balls and deep fried and, more often than not, filled with crema pasticcera or pastry cream. While savory zeppole have a firm, pizza-like consistency, these sweet bignè are soft and fluffy. It is funny to think that the typical Father’s Day dish in Italy is not some he-man brontosaurus burger but, well… a cream puff!

Ingredients

For a plateful

  • 250ml water
  • 100g butter
  • A pinch of salt
  • 125g flour (pastry flour or all-purpose)
  • Sugar (at least a spoonful, more to taste)
  • 4 eggs (or 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks)
  • Grated lemon zest (or a drop of limoncello) (optional)

For frying: vegetable oil, olive oil and/or lard

  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup or more of pastry cream (optional: see Notes)

Directions

Bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer. Off heat, add all of the flour and whisk vigorously until the flour is well incorporated. Put the pot back on the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture breaks away from the sides of the pot and adheres to itself to form a ball-like mass. (This should be very quick and take only a few seconds.)

Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool off a bit. Then add the eggs, one by one, mixing well with a wooden spoon until each is well incorporated into the dough. Let the dough cool completely. It will be quite sticky and soft.

To fry your bignè, take two spoons and scoop up a spoonful of the dough with one of them. Then, passing the dough from one spoon to another, form a roundish little dough. (NB: It will be close to impossible to make perfectly round sphere with this wet dough.) Then flick your dough ball into the fat. Then proceed with the rest of the dough, until your skillet is filled (but not too crowded) with little bignè.

The fat should be only moderately hot at first. The dough balls will puff up almost as soon as they hit the oil. Nudge them gently as they fry. They will rotate very easily. When they have all lost their raw look and are nice and puffy, raise the heat and continue frying over high heat until the bignè are all golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a platter lined with paper towels or a baking grid to drain and cool. Repeat until you’ve used up all your dough.

If you have more dough to fry, remove the skillet to a cold burner to let it cool off a bit. (If you add your next batch to oil immediately, the oil will be too hot and the bignè will brown before they have a chance to puff up properly.) After a minute or two, you can add your next batch of bignè into the oil off heat, the oil will still be hot enough to start them cooking. Then put the skillet back on the flame and continue as for the previous batch.

After all your bignè are done, let them cool off completely. At this point, you can simply sprinkle them with powdered sugar and serve. Or, for a richer version, you can fill them first with crema pasticcera (see Notes). The easiest and best way to do this is to use a pastry syringe to inject the cream right into the center of each bignè, but if you don’t have one—and I don’t—then you can make do by slitting one side (the ugliest one) with a paring knife, very gingerly opening the resulting slit up a bit to reveal the insides of the bignè, and inserting a small spoonful of the cream. You can do this with a small spoon or a pastry bag. (Since I don’t have a pastry bag, either, I use a makeshift one using a plastic sandwich bag with one corner cut off.) Place the bignè on your serving platter slit-side down, and continue with the others.

Notes

Crema pasticcera, or pastry cream, is simply hot milk, usually flavored with some vanilla bean, thickened with egg yolks creamed together with sugar. These days, however, it is not unusual to use a bit of flour or cornstarch to do some of the thickening. This reduces the number of egg yolks you need and making the whole mixture more stable and less prone to curdling, at the cost of some richness. An illustrated, step-by-step recipe for the traditional version can be found here.

Most modern recipes for bignè di san Giuseppe will call for frying these bignè in olio di semi or vegetable oil. Older recipes use olive oil and even older ones lard. Personally, I use mostly canola oil mixed with some olive oil for flavor. For a (slightly) lighter version, bignè di san Giuseppe can also be made in the oven rather than fried, on lined cookie shett placed in a moderate oven (180°C/350°F) for about 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

The more commonly found zeppole di san Giuseppe are made with essentially the same components put together in more elaborate way than these. The dough is formed into a kind of doughnut-like receptacle using a fluted pastry bag, deep-fried (or baked). They are then sprinkled with powdered sugar, the hole in the middle is filled with pastry cream (again with a fluted pastry bag) and topped with a bitter cherry or other candied berry. The resulting pastry looks like this:

Bignè di san Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes a plateful

Bignè di san Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs)

Ingredients

  • 250ml water
  • 100g butter
  • A pinch of salt
  • 125g flour (pastry flour or all-purpose)
  • Sugar (at least a spoonful, more to taste)
  • 4 eggs (or 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks)
  • Grated lemon zest (or a drop of limoncello) (optional)
  • For frying: vegetable oil, olive oil and/or lard
  • To finish:
  • Confectioner's sugar
  • 1 cup or more of pastry cream (optional: see Notes)

Directions

  1. Bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer. Off heat, add all of the flour and whisk vigorously until the flour is well incorporated. Put the pot back on the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture breaks away from the sides of the pot and adheres to itself to form a ball-like mass. (This should be very quick and take only a few seconds.)
  2. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool off a bit. Then add the eggs, one by one, mixing well with a wooden spoon until each is well incorporated into the dough. Let the dough cool completely. It will be quite sticky and soft.
  3. To fry your bignè, take two spoons and scoop up a spoonful of the dough with one of them. Then, passing the dough from one spoon to another, form a roundish little dough. (NB: It will be close to impossible to make perfectly round sphere with this wet dough.) Then flick your dough ball into the fat. Then proceed with the rest of the dough, until your skillet is filled (but not too crowded) with little bignè.
  4. The fat should be only moderately hot at first. The dough balls will puff up almost as soon as they hit the oil. Nudge them gently as they fry. They will rotate very easily. When they have all lost their raw look and are nice and puffy, raise the heat and continue frying over high heat until the bignè are all golden brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a platter lined with paper towels or a baking grid to drain and cool. Repeat until you've used up all your dough.
  5. If you have more dough to fry, remove the skillet to a cold burner to let it cool off a bit. (If you add your next batch to oil immediately, the oil will be too hot and the bignè will brown before they have a chance to puff up properly.) After a minute or two, you can add your next batch of bignè into the oil off heat, the oil will still be hot enough to start them cooking. Then put the skillet back on the flame and continue as for the previous batch.
  6. After all your bignè are done, let them cool off completely. At this point, you can simply sprinkle them with powdered sugar and serve. Or, for a richer version, you can fill them first with crema pasticcera (see Notes).

Crema pasticcera, or pastry cream, is simply hot milk, usually flavored with some vanilla bean, thickened with egg yolks creamed together with sugar. These days, however, it is not unusual to use a bit of flour or cornstarch to do some of the thickening. This reduces the number of egg yolks you need and making the whole mixture more stable and less prone to curdling, at the cost of some richness. A step by step recipe can be found at: http://italianfood.about.com/od/illustratedrecipesmore/ss/aa010809.htm

http://memoriediangelina.com/2011/03/20/bigne-di-san-giuseppe/
FrankBignè di san Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puffs)

Comments

  1. Pingback: Zeppole con le alici (Zeppole with Anchovy) | Memorie di Angelina

  2. Dinner In Venice

    You had me at “fried”. In Tuscany, there is a saying that even an old slipper tastes great when it’s deep-fried. I agree 100% – that’s actually how I trick my 5 and 6 – yr olds into eating all kinds of vegetables. When you give the treatment to a dessert (which is already appealing in itself), it’s pure heaven. Thank you for this treat!

  3. passalamoda

    Bravo! In Messina were two types of fried dough, one made of flour with yeast very similar to yours the “crispeddi”, and another made of rice cooked in milk, and eggs the “sfinci” while “zippule” were made with potatoes and flour . But it is difficult to track the names in Italy.
    Here in Tuscany they love a type like yours, but no sugar, salted and with soft cheese or prosciutto: the “coccoli”.

    1. Frank Fariello

      Very interesting! The variety of Italian food never ceases to amaze me. As for the names, as you say, keeping track is a real challenge… between all the different dishes, some of which share the same name, then the same or similar dishes that have different names…

  4. Adri

    No kidding it is next to impossible to make perfect little round ones, but I sure do not care! This is one of my favorite treats of all time. Fried dough plus crema pasticciera equals happiness to me! A liberal dusting of powdered sugar puts these right over the top! I can still remember enjoying these as a kid with my dad. He loved them too. And you have provided clear and complete directions here. Bravo!

  5. I Sicilian

    I have been thinking of posting a Zeppole recipe, but it seems everyone's beating me to it. I guess I didn't take into account the holiday that these delicious things are popular in and that it would be on many bloggers mind
    Oh well, maybe some other time. Always love your posts

  6. Kathy Gori

    I buzzed this and saved it before even reading the recipe, on the basis of the picture alone!! My birthday is St. Josephs Day, March 19th and can you believe I'm Italian and have never eaten these?! It's time! Thanks for the recipe.

  7. Roz from 'la bella vita'

    I wasn't able to make zeppele this year; work got the best of me, but I'm so glad that you and several other Italian bloggers shared your personal recipes and a little bit about this wonderful Italian-Catholic tradition that is far too often overlooked after the festivities of St. Patrick's Day.

  8. Ciao Chow Linda

    Oh Frank these are lovely. I was almost going to make some this year for my brother Joseph, whose birthday coincides with the feast of San Giuseppe, but I changed my mind after a week of too much cooking. I definitely will make these next year.

  9. Proud Italian Cook

    I've had way to many zeppole than I care to admit recently. My favorite bakery carries them for just about a month, I've been there 3 times already and relatives keep dropping some off, help!

  10. Tiffany

    I never thought about Father's Day being on a different day than ours…. any father would be lucky for a plate of these, yum!

  11. Drick

    that is so funny, cream puffs for father's day, hey, we all know dads are push-overs…. I think I like any kind of cream filled pastry, this one Frank sounds simply rewarding

  12. Anna C

    I couldn't resist dropping by to check out your tribute to the feast of St. Joseph. Italians in Montreal still take it seriously, and have a huge celebration with supper and dancing at a hall. The beigné look absolutely delicious.

  13. Jillymo

    These look delicious …. however I don't have a sweet tooth. What savory dishes do you like to prepare on St. Giuseppe?

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